Rascals case in brief

In the beginning, in 1989, more than 90 children at the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton, North Carolina, accused a total of 20 adults with 429 instances of sexual abuse over a three-year period. It may have all begun with one parent’s complaint about punishment given her child.

Among the alleged perpetrators: the sheriff and mayor. But prosecutors would charge only Robin Byrum, Darlene Harris, Elizabeth “Betsy” Kelly, Robert “Bob” Kelly, Willard Scott Privott, Shelley Stone and Dawn Wilson โ€“ the Edenton 7.

Along with sodomy and beatings, allegations included a baby killed with a handgun, a child being hung upside down from a tree and being set on fire and countless other fantastic incidents involving spaceships, hot air balloons, pirate ships and trained sharks.

By the time prosecutors dropped the last charges in 1997, Little Rascals had become North Carolina’s longest and most costly criminal trial. Prosecutors kept defendants jailed in hopes at least one would turn against their supposed co-conspirators. Remarkably, none did. Another shameful record: Five defendants had to wait longer to face their accusers in court than anyone else in North Carolina history.

Between 1991 and 1997, Ofra Bikel produced three extraordinary episodes on the Little Rascals case for the PBS series “Frontline.” Although “Innocence Lost” did not deter prosecutors, it exposed their tactics and fostered nationwide skepticism and dismay.

With each passing year, the absurdity of the Little Rascals charges has become more obvious. But no admission of error has ever come from prosecutors, police, interviewers or parents. This site is devoted to the issues raised by this case.


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March 25, 2023
Encouraging news, after ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ” ๐ฒ๐ž๐š๐ซ๐ฌ of unspeakable injustice:
On Aug. 28-30, Junior Chandler's lawyers with Duke's Wrongful Convictions Clinic will present evidence of his innocence at a hearing in Boone before Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus.
Earlier, Judge Gavenus denied, without an evidentiary hearing, five of Juniorโ€™s seven claims supporting his innocence, but he ordered the August hearing on the last two:
1) that, during Juniorโ€™s trial in 1987 [background in first comment], prosecutors violated Brady v. Maryland, a federal constitutional requirement that they turn over evidence favorable to the defendant and withheld significant evidence demonstrating that Junior did not commit the crimes he was charged with โ€“ and that, in fact, no crimes ever occurred; and
2) that prosecutors allowed their most important witnesses to testify falsely, which Junior's lawyers could not prove without the Brady evidence being withheld.
These are powerful and well documented claims, deeply rooted in this country's promise of fair treatment for all defendants -- a promise that for Junior Chandler has remained broken since 1987.
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1 month ago

Junior Chandler's affect in a Boone courtroom over three days in late August gave few clues that the rest of his life was at stake.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and wrist shackles, Junior sat composed and attentive a few feet in front of Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus as half a dozen lawyers debated the 1987 trial that resulted in consecutive life sentences plus 21 years for the "satanic ritual abuse" of his Madison County day-care bus riders.
Occasionally he would wince at seeing video of a pediatrician or social worker struggling to defend their profoundly flawed testimony of 36 years ago.
I asked Junior what he would've told Judge Gavenus had he himself been called to testify. Here's what he wrote me from Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution:
"My name is Andrew Edward Chandler Jr. I am 66 years old, and I have been been in prison since April 17, 1987, for crimes I am 100% innocent of!
"I have lost many of my family in that time. My son Andy is now 44 years old, son Nathan will be 40 this month. My Mom is 87 years old. My brother Robert, who took care of Mom, passed away on June 12th, the day before her birthday.
"How much time is enough when there was only hearsay evidence that convicted me! I can only Hope and Pray that Justice will finally come my way and I will have the chance to get to know my sons and grandkids and great grandsons one day!"
It's been almost four months since Junior's hearing in Boone -- and 2.5 years since Judge Gavenus received his Motion for Appropriate Relief. Is it too much to expect that Junior be granted that relief before beginning yet another year behind bars?
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1 month ago

Notes from this week's evidentiary hearing in Boone on Junior Chandler's Motion for Appropriate Relief (background in first comment):
"๐’๐ก๐จ๐ฐ ๐Œ๐จ๐ฆ๐ฆ๐ฒ ๐ฐ๐ก๐š๐ญ ๐‰๐ฎ๐ง๐ข๐จ๐ซ ๐๐ข๐."
-- Bus rider being prompted in interview with social worker Linda King (reported in the original transcript, but omitted from the prosecution's trial summary)
"๐“๐ก๐ž๐ฒ ๐ค๐ง๐ž๐ฐ ๐ข๐ญ ๐ฐ๐š๐ฌ ๐š ๐Ÿ๐ซ๐š๐ฎ๐ ๐š๐ง๐ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž๐ฒ ๐๐ข๐๐ง'๐ญ ๐œ๐จ๐ซ๐ซ๐ž๐œ๐ญ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐œ๐จ๐ซ๐."
-- Jim Coleman, noting prosecutors' violation of the Brady Rule against withholding evidence
"๐€๐ฅ๐ฅ ๐ญ๐ก๐ข๐ฌ ๐ก๐š๐ฌ ๐›๐ž๐ž๐ง ๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ข๐ ๐š๐ญ๐ž๐ ๐š๐ฅ๐ซ๐ž๐š๐๐ฒ."
-- John Honeycutt, assistant DA for Madison County, dismissing the defense's claims as irrelevant
"๐˜๐จ๐ฎ'๐ฏ๐ž ๐ฅ๐จ๐ฌ๐ญ ๐ฒ๐จ๐ฎ๐ซ ๐œ๐จ๐ฆ๐ฉ๐š๐ฌ๐ฌ ๐š๐›๐จ๐ฎ๐ญ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐œ๐š๐ฌ๐ž."
-- Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus, scolding the defense for straying beyond the limits of subject matter he had authorized
"๐“๐ก๐ž๐ซ๐ž ๐š๐ซ๐ž ๐๐š๐ฒ๐ฌ ๐ข๐ง ๐…๐ž๐›๐ซ๐ฎ๐š๐ซ๐ฒ ๐ญ๐ก๐š๐ญ ๐š๐ซ๐ž ๐ฐ๐š๐ซ๐ฆ."
-- Social worker King, insisting that one of Junior's bus riders actually could've fallen into the French Broad River, as claimed, without her parents noticing anything amiss when she arrived home.
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1 month ago

Hi Mr. Powell:
"Well, it's rained here all day, so no yard time! We had a good meal for Christmas, roast beef, mashed potatoes, salad, bean salad, chocolate cake for dessert. I watched NFL games on TV. No mail until Thursday....
"We go back to work on Thursday in Maintenance! We're supposed to get a little snow on Friday -- hope we get a good one! [Junior Chandler's favorite job is driving the snow plow.]
"Tell all your family to have a Happy New Year 2024. I believe this is my time to go home. My granddaughter is expecting a boy this week! Wish I could be there, but maybe soon!"
Andrew Edward Chandler Jr.
NC DAC Avery-Mitchell Correctional
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1 month ago

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Todayโ€™s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


Satanic ritual abuse exemplified ‘counterknowledge’

Oct. 4, 2013

โ€œThe essence of counterknowledge is that it purports to be knowledge but is not knowledge. Its claims can be shown to be untrue, either because there are facts that contradict them or because there is no evidence to support them. It misrepresents reality (deliberately or otherwise) by presenting non-facts as facts….

โ€œThe media were pushing the circulation of counterknowledge long before the public hooked up to broadband. Consider, for example, the satanic ritual abuse scare….โ€

โ€“ From โ€œCounterknowledge: How we surrendered to conspiracy theories, quack medicine, bogus science and fake historyโ€ by Damian Thompson (2008)

R.I.P., Alexander Cockburn, ritual-abuse skeptic

120730CockburnJuly 30, 2012

Death noted: Radical-left polemicistย Alexander Cockburn, who as early as 1990 was raging against claims of satanic ritual abuse.

Cockburn gave particular attention to feminismโ€™s role in the mania:

โ€œIn the coalition powering the satanic abuse persecutions,โ€ he recalled in a 1999 column in The Nation, โ€œfeminists constituted a powerful component, most conspicuously in the form of Gloria Steinem and Ms. magazine.

โ€œHow did feminism, a movement that grew out of the radical passions of the 1960s, navigate itself into this demonic alliance? Charges of perverse abuse of children seemed an inviting line of attack in the larger onslaught on patriarchy, sexual violence and harassment. Social workers and therapists โ€“ many of them feminists โ€“ became the investigators and effective prosecutors.โ€

Cockburn oversimplified, as was his way, but it’s no stretch to see how feminism fed into not only ritual abuse, but also the sister hoaxes of recovered memory syndrome and multiple personality disorder.

Responses to N&O op-ed vary dramatically

140124N&OResponseJan. 24, 2014

โ€œPowell is right (in this News & Observer column). The state should exonerate those wrongly convicted members of the Edenton Seven and the wrongly accused who were never convicted but had their lives ruined.

โ€œThe Innocence Project has freed men wrongly accused of murder or rape, but there seems to be little interest in making amends for those wrongly accused of abusing children, no matter how fantastical the accusations.โ€

โ€“ From โ€œEdenton Seven: hysteria, false accusations,ย ruined livesโ€ย atย Erstwhile Editorย (Jan. 14)

โ€œIt can be hard, in calmer times, to imagine the power of a moral panic like the one in Edenton, itself part of a broader national hysteria. Lisa (Scheer) and I wrote about the case (in Elle magazine)ย and in our reporting found a community where rational people seemed afraid to dissent from the fantastical narrative.

โ€œAs young parents ourselves we were sympathetic to the families we met, but clearly things had gone very wrong in Chowan County.โ€

โ€“ From โ€œInjustice in Edentonโ€ by Edward Cone (Jan. 14)

And three online responses from the N&O:

ย โ€œA few months after (Bob) Kelly’s release I met him briefly. He had a job maintaining pay phones (for Glenn Lancaster), one of which was located in a pizzeria I was managing.

โ€œI asked him if he was indeed who I thought he was and he said yes. When I told him I believed him and considered the accusations against him ridiculous on their face, he thanked me and appeared to be grateful for the moral support. What struck me was the lowly financial state he seemed to be reduced to and the humiliation he so clearly had to endure.โ€

โ€“ Bruce Henry

โ€œMr. Powell has forgotten Dorothy Rabinowitz, the Wall Street Journal journalist/commentator who received one of her numerous Pulitzer nominations for a series on the Edenton witch hunts. Those articles were some of the most powerful and insightful I have read in my life. I recall wondering why no North Carolina newspaper had the guts to stand up and condemn the witch trial hysteria and obvious travesty of justice taking place right in their own back yard.โ€

โ€“ James Gamble

Rabinowitz reported heroically on the ritual abuse epidemic, but she focused mostly on cases in Maplewood, N.J.; Malden, Mass., and Wenatchee, Wash., rather than in Edenton.

โ€œI am so glad to know that you were in Edenton at that time and you know exactly what happened. Do you really think a child molester is doing to admit what they did? I don’t think so!!!

โ€œI’m sure you will allow them to baby sit your children or grandchildren.โ€

โ€“ Lu Ann Lewis Barber

Actually, Iโ€™d be glad to allow that โ€“ what potential babysitter has ever been more thoroughly vetted than the Edenton Seven?

In 1993, predicting a historic marker โ€“ and more

150618BarkerHouseJune 18, 2015

Given my thoroughlyย unsuccessful attemptย to persuade the State of North Carolina to erect a historic marker recalling the Little Rascals Day Care case, I had to laugh at discovering this 1993 letter to the Elizabeth City Daily Advance:

โ€œDear Editor:

โ€œThe year is 2022. The town of Edenton, last stop on the witch-hunt trail beginning in Salem, Mass., with an intermediate stop at Joe McCarthyโ€™s office in Washington, D.C., has finally decided to build a historic marker. (It will be) directly across the street from the townโ€™s $4 million tour center, where people gather from across the nation (indeed, from around the world) to see and feel and learn about the Edenton witch hunts of 1990-1993….

โ€œIt is here where the walking tours start, where the T-shirts are sold and where the buses disgorge their curious cargo….โ€

Letter writer David W. Tucker of San Francisco โ€“ who in all likelihood had recently watched โ€œInnocence Lost: The Verdictโ€ย โ€“ expressed confidence that the markerย would eventually be approved, even if not by 2022:

โ€œThe only question is whether the marker will speak of the communityโ€™s collective shame
or, instead, of the individuals and groups of good will and courage who brought lasting honor to Edenton by rescuing Bob Kelly, Dawn Wilson, the Twiddy family and the others from the nightmare that fear, hate and ignorance visited upon them….โ€